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'Human wall' saves loggerhead turtles

By Kirstin Stokes Smith     Jul 9, 2013 in Environment
Kralendijk - If a light switches on at an airport, will it kill a generation of endangered sea turtles? The answer is sometimes "yes."
This year one group of volunteers and marine life professionals came together to change the fate of 113 Loggerhead Turtles. On the Dutch-controlled island of Bonaire at Te Amo Beach, a group of baby turtles hatched. The problem? Te Amo Beach is located next to an airport, which can be fatal to new turtles.
ABC News spoke with Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire program director Sue Willis, who said the lights from the airport dazzle and confuse hatchlings, preventing them from reaching the water. Rather than crawling toward the moon over the water, as newly hatched turtles instinctively do, these turtles have crawled toward the airport lights in the past. Two years ago, an entire nest of turtles died after crawling into traffic.
On July 1, Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire staff and volunteers blocked the airport lights by creating a man-made shield with their bodies — a human wall to guide the hatchlings toward the water. They saved the lives of all 113 babies, though it was close for one.
Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire reported that one of the hatchlings “was under-developed” and “its egg sac was still attached” but that after receiving overnight care staff were able to release it the next day, “quite healthy.”
National Geographic says Loggerhead turtles are the most "abundant" of all marine turtles in US waters. Like other turtle species, Loggerheads have been threatened by human fishing and development.
Digital Journal's Tim Sandle reports that Loggerheads, though abundant, have a "low reproductive rate" with females laying "an average of four egg clutches" annually. It takes a female between 17 and 33 years to reach sexual maturity, so it can take up to 25 years before they return to their birthplace to mate.
In Bonaire people are committed to making sure this long journey is a fruitful one. Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire says staff and volunteers scan beaches for nests during nesting season (April to January), making sure they are safe and looking for signs of hatching. They also remove litter to give females improved access to beaches and to give hatchlings an unobstructed path to the water.
Conservartion efforts are not limited to Bonaire though. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that Loggerheads are "highly migratory" and thus "shared resources among many nations."
More about Bonaire, loggerhead sea turtles, endangered sea turtles
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